As the person responsible for managing the effective flow of information within your organization, how do you envision your perfect day? Is it spent solving enterprise-critical business problems, or putting out the network administration fires that inevitably flare up? Do you dream of improving the efficiency of your network, or are you content to get through the day without suffering revenue-threatening downtime?
Aside from the natural human inclination to “think big”, CIOs are specifically tasked with the responsibility of holding a holistic vision of information and the networks on which their businesses rely. Increasingly, this vision includes the outsourcing of their network management. By offloading the day-to-day tasks of network monitoring and maintenance, internal staff can refocus their efforts onto their core competencies – and help to create a faster, leaner, more efficient organization in the process.
BUILDING THE BUSINESS VS. MINDING THE STORE
In many ways, outsourcing network management is no different from hiring an accounting firm to perform a financial audit. Senior management, recognizing the complexity of financial issues, wisely chooses to leave that work to the experts. The reality is that with the growing complexity of modern network systems, the shortage of qualified IT staff, and the essential function of networks in day-to-day operations, intelligent network management can be just as challenging.
When it comes to their networks, however, many companies remain focused on simply minding the store. Too often, long-term projects like enterprise resource planning and developing long-range performance objectives are sacrificed in order to keep a network up and running. With more time available to solve core business problems, CIOs can help to make a positive impact on the bottom line. The CIO that embraces the managed services model recognizes that valuable resources, such as time and energy of the CIO and IT team, are best spent improving the network and flow of information, not in maintaining the status quo.
No reputable managed services provider (MSP) relies on a one-size-fits-all solution to an organization’s needs. In fact, one of the key advantages of outsourcing is the ability to consider a wide variety of service offerings – selecting those that will best enhance internal operations. Instead of duplicating efforts, organizations are then able to leverage an MSP’s experience in developing networked environments; most providers, for example, have already encountered and resolved many of the problems organizations may be facing for the first time.
Much like firefighting, managing a network should not be a reactive exercise. If adequate preventative measures and early-warning systems are in place, the damage caused by any network failures can be minimized. Consequently, organizations that choose to outsource network management should work with their service provider to develop and implement specific guidelines for reporting network vulnerabilities. Other essential components of network management, such as user policies (who can use what, when and where) and network redundancy (load-balancing of equipment), should also be discussed.
The best MSPs take this approach one step further, beyond simply providing early-warning systems. By creating an accurate model of a client’s network devices and systems, an MSP can use intelligent agents and threshold definitions to provide preemptive support. This is clearly the ideal scenario – one in which problems can be prevented before expensive outages and downtime occur. With a dedicated managed services company providing continuous network monitoring, client IT departments can continue to improve existing infrastructure, committing themselves to building the business, not just minding the store.
THE VALUE OF MANAGED SERVICES
In considering the costs associated with outsourcing a company’s essential systems maintenance functions, management should first consider the internal costs of performing those activities. From a network management perspective, these activities could include network design and implementation, the installation of infrastructure (hardware and software), ongoing systems monitoring and maintenance, and the management of the staff required to perform all these duties. It’s important to remember that not all activities need to be outsourced – a good service provider will work closely with an organization to determine which functions lend themselves best to outsourcing.
Unless a company is in fact a network managed services provider, it does not generate revenue by ensuring that their network is always secure and on-line. Instead, businesses realize the greatest economic benefit when they focus on new technologies, enhance existing systems, invest in strategic planning and execute programs with fewer but more qualified staff. Combined with the simple truth that constant surveillance by electronic means costs less than full-time staff spent doing the same, outsourcing emerges as an option that allows companies to focus on strategic, revenue-enhancing activities, maximizing staff resources and minimizing costs in the process.
Based in Toronto, David Cvet is Chief Technology Officer for network monitoring and management services firm Teleias Inc. He has been responsible for formulating, designing and implementing technology architectures and solutions for Fortune 500 companies within a range of markets.